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PLS Executive Director Voices Concern Over Clinton Lockdown - PLSNY
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PLS Executive Director Voices Concern Over Clinton Lockdown

June 15, 2015

Concern for the Men Still Behind Bars as Lockdown Continues, Michael Winerip, New York Times, June 14, 2015

 

For nine days, Geneva Perez has been trying to reach her husband in prison. And for nine days, she has been told she cannot talk to him.

Prison officials have assured her that everything is fine. But she does not believe them because, in prison, it almost never is.

Ms. Perez’s husband is serving a life sentence for murder at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., where two inmates made a stunning escapea little over a week ago. Since then, the prison’s 2,600 inmates have been under a 24-hour lockdown each day.

Communication with the outside world has ceased. No visitors or phone calls are permitted. Mail delivery has been inconsistent.

For the public, riveted by the manhunt going on outside the prison walls, the lockdown has barely registered. But for an informal community of women — the wives of Clinton inmates — the great worry is what is going on behind the walls.

Are their husbands getting the medication that stabilizes their mood swings? Are they eating and being allowed to shower? Will being locked in set them off and land them in solitary confinement for months to come?

“We keep calling the prison and they don’t tell us anything,” Ms. Perez said.

In the best of times, Ms. Perez’s life is isolated. She works two jobs and the five-hour bus trip to Clinton, near the Canadian border, eats up much of her free time. Friends wonder why she has to go every weekend. And when people hear her husband was convicted of murder, it scares them.

Ms. Perez has long leaned on the wives of the Clinton inmates. And it is to them that she has once again turned over the last week.

“We all go through the same struggles,” she said.

Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Corrections, said in an email that the “inmates are taking showers and receiving medical attention as appropriate.”

“Please feel free to share this information with the wives and advise them to be patient during this time and that the inmates are doing fine,” she added.

Since the lockdown, Ms. Perez has been in touch with the women she has come to know on the five-hour bus ride, at the Super 8 hotel in Plattsburgh where she occasionally stays, and in the long lines she stands in waiting to go through prison security.

The wives post messages on a Facebook page, Free Our Love Ones, trying to sort out which, if any, rumors are true.

Andrea Britt, a merchandiser from Queens, heard that the prisoners were still being allowed to send letters. Kaity Brown, a social worker from the Bronx, heard they were not.

Kaity Brown and other inmates’ wives are trying to sort out which rumors about the lockdown are true. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Ms. Perez was told by another prisoner’s wife that the men were being forced to relieve themselves in bags, although Ms. Foglia, the Corrections Department spokeswoman, said that was not so.

Several had heard that the lockdown would continue until the escapees were found, even if it took months.

And, they asked one another, what if the fugitives are not found? Ms. Foglia said she had no information about how long the lockdown might continue.

When the wives have called the prison, if they were lucky, they have reached a counselor they had met during one of their visits. More often, they have spoken to the guard in charge of answering the main phone line.

They are told they have no need to worry. But they do.

During the last week, Karen Murtagh, the director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, a legal aid group, has been getting calls from family members all over the state. She says she fears that the longer the men are locked in, the more frustrated and angry they will become.

“Prisons are often powder kegs to begin with,” she said. “This cannot be helping.”

On the Free Our Love Ones Facebook page, someone made the same point: “My cousin Jimmy is also in there. My Aunt Linda got a letter from him this morning. He said everything is just incredibly tense in there.”

Ms. Britt, one of the few to have received a letter last week, said that even though her husband was in a different cellblock from the two men who had escaped, he had heard about them, an indication that despite the lockdown, the prison grapevine was still functioning.

Cutting off the wives from the husbands has made life harder on both sides of the wall.

Ms. Brown has a tattoo of her husband, an inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

The telephone blackout has been particularly upsetting for Lynette Velez, 36, and her husband, Pablo Negron, 30, who is serving a 12-year sentence for assault. Ms. Velez is hospitalized with stage 4 cancer and cannot make the trip to Clinton. “The only way we keep in touch is through the phone,” she said.

Kimberlee Morris was looking forward to her fiancé’s being freed in August, but fears if the lockdown goes on much longer, he will not complete the necessary rehabilitation programs and his release date will be pushed back.

On the Saturday morning that the escape was discovered, Ms. Brown, the social worker, arrived at the prison for a visit but was not permitted to see her husband, so she turned around and drove back to the Bronx, a five-hour trip.

Ms. Perez, 25, says most people do not have any understanding of what it is like being a prison wife.

Before the lockdown occurred, she would usually leave her home on Staten Island by 6 p.m. on Saturdays. She and her three children first ride a public bus about an hour to the Staten Island Ferry. They take the ferry to Lower Manhattan, then catch the subway to 161st Street, then walk to the corner where a chartered bus is parked.

Ms. Brown and her husband, Thomas Brown, around 2013. Inmates’ wives have shared concerns on a Facebook page.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

The bus leaves at 10 p.m., but she tries to be there at least a half-hour early so they can get good seats for sleeping.

This time of year, when the roads are clear, they typically arrive at the prison by dawn.

They use public bathrooms in the prison’s reception building to wash themselves and put on clean clothes. Visiting hours start at 9 a.m., but if the security line is long, they do not get in until 10.

They usually get home around 2 a.m. on Monday.

Ms. Perez is up by 5:30 a.m. for her job as a home health aide. She then puts in eight hours as a cashier at a Pathmark. When she gets home, she is exhausted.

Though she is not happy about it, for the time being, the trips have stopped.

Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on June 15, 2015, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Concern for the Men Still Behind Bars .